Writing program advice

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  • Rachel White

    I don’t necessarily think it’s an either/or proposition. You can have vibrant discussions, maintain a love of learning, explore ideas, use Socratic questioning, AND use a curriculum for grammar and/or writing.

    Heavy reading of great books does not automatically translate into a good speller or a natural writer. For my dd, yes; for my son, no.

    Plus, there are different types of papers to write, models to follow to learn skills. Grammar  has rules, just like math; writing in various types of formats has rules that must be learned; science has a method to follow in performing a lab, etc…

    Growing with Grammar has been wonderful for my two and easy for me to teach and check. They are beginning Editor-in-Chief this year. My dd requires extra diagramming work (which helps her thinking skills, just like long-division and Latin), so we use GwG’s Digging into Diagramming for supplementation.

    If you can use a writer’s handbook and teach your child the writing skills (beyond the basic summary and detailed narration), then more-power-to- ya’. But those of us who have seen our children struggle with putting their thoughts on paper (when they have NO trouble verbalizing them) have benefited from the experience and teaching from others to whom we have delegated this important skill or by using their curricula.

    Also, I agree that filling in a blank doesn’t necessarily translate to better writing. So, I would ask: “How young are you doing this?” That makes a difference. However, beginning around 10 or so, the mechanics of the English language in written form via grammar, punctuation, and writing techniques are absolutely necessary. I am a natural writer, yet I have improved greatly by reading writer’s handbooks, re-learning grammar and mechanics rules, and I am taking a course for myself to learn the literary analysis essay. These methods, including a “curriculum” has improved my natural skills and caused me to be a better SPEAKER, too.

    My son, after being so unsure of himself with expressing himself on paper and dreading writing these several years, is finally developing some confidence after going through Elegant Essay and now the Write Shop 1 & 2 course online.

    So, basically, if you need a curriculum-USE ONE! If you don’t and your children can learn all that they need from how you’re doing it-GREAT!

    But I wish I had listened to my gut years ago and not been anti-curriculum. CM wasn’t anti-curriculum. CM doesn’t mean ‘zero structured teaching’. However, I definitely agree that some curricula teach some concepts too early or some parents start them at too young an age.

    So, any of you ladies who see your children getting older and reaching the high school level without the necessary skills to write high school-level papers or write in grammatically correct ways, then do something about it. Do what’s best for your family and don’t have any “curriculum-guilt”; if it works, then do it.

    And I would disagree that one-year of grammar in high school is sufficient. First, it’s like multiplication; it requires repetition. Usually by high school, you’re just reinforcing grammar, not teaching it. But, if starting late for whatever reason (doesn’t matter) one particular high school-level grammar program I’m aware of is a two-year program: Our Mother Tongue. Of course, one like Analytical Grammar can be used, too.

    There are several great writing programs to help you, as well as grammar ones. I knew I could handle the grammar and mechanics; the writing I’ve been pleased to delegate, over-looking their final drafts before they’re sent in. Next is the writing required in their future literature and history.

    Next year, I think my dd will use Center for Lit 9th grade course along with their writing program so I can focus on my son’s American Lit. and my own part-time schooling and working efforts, as well as taking care of my husband, with his failing health.


    I have two incredibly different children. One thrived on IEW and would have struggled to write well without the tools it provided. The other is a natural writer and despises every single writing program we have tried. She just doesn’t need a step by step curriculum.

    Different methods for different children. 🙂

    I am still a big believer in delayed grammar and writing instruction as Charlotte Mason recommended and I have never regretted following her advice in these areas.

    I enjoyed reading Sally’s email so thanks for sharing it! It makes me curious to hear what she might add to her original statement now that all of her children are grown.

    Rachel White

    I like Clarkson’s stuff in general. Remember, prior to having children and while raising them, she had extensive experience, in college and abroad, of making speeches and then becoming an authoress. I conclude that all of these (plus, what is her degree in?) equip her for teaching writing and speaking skills to her own children without a set curriculum.

    I think that is important to keep in mind, as there is no comparison to Clarkson’s training, experience, and natural abilities to that of another homeschool mom who has none of those qualities, who is trying to teach her own children through high school.




    Very good point Rachel!!!  I never really thought about her extensive background before she had kids.   I guess that is why I have never been able to quit using a grammar program!  I do not remember learning much of anything about grammar/writing in school.  Almost everything I know NOW has been from teaching my kids.  I DO wish there was a program that focused on grammar as it pertains to writing.  I just am not seeing the point in diagramming and knowing what a transitive verb and a predicate nominative is… that is what we learning yesterday in grammar.  It does promote thinking skills though…

    Rachel White

    My opinion is that if it promotes good thinking skills, then it is beneficial. Period. As diagramming does this very effectively, then it is a good practice.

    You said:

    “I DO wish there was a program that focused on grammar as it pertains to writing.”

    My response is that that is exactly what it’s doing, just in a broken-down, into parts, form. Grammar and writing, to me, cannot be separated. Just as the material world and the spiritual aren’t (in our family’s Jewish worldview).

    If you’re using Spelling Wisdom, or another dictation curriculum, you can incorporate them more; within copywork, too.

    I compare it to long division. Or working out a multiplication problem ALL THE WAY OUT on paper. It gives orderly thinking to the brain. Therefore, in turn, it encourages right thinking regarding mathematics. I think diagramming works similarly. Yes, it’s harder for some people because they don’t naturally think that orderly (like my dd, who is an artist…and well…you know what that means!); so she has to work harder on it, but it provides a long-term benefit of training her brain and by extension, improving her sentence structuring.

    I tell her it’s the art-form of language, just as she has art-forms within drawing to achieve a certain end (which have names) or in music; dance-forms, etc. I explain it to her in the language of art,which she understands. For ex: Practicing that nose structure, a certain one of a certain type, for hours till she gets it. The nose doesn’t automatically appear. Her best friend has to practice ballet steps (which have names) repeatedly until it blends into a beautiful whole.

    That wholeness of a beautiful sentence which is devised of parts is what we enjoy. We must learn and/or discipline ourselves to learn the parts of things to get to the enjoyment and effective use of the whole.

    G-d communicates with us through language, math, and science; we humans make sense of it by breaking it down into parts to understand and better equip ourselves to then be sub-creators and impart Truth to others.

    I hope that makes sense. This is a hurried response.


    Rachel, when and how often would you suggest to teach diagramming and incorporating it into the dictation lesson?

    Rachel White

    Diagramming is part of our Growing with Grammar lessons. They start with just subject and predicate diagrams and then go from there.

    As to answer your question, it just depends and I’m guessing b/c it’s not how I did it; it was just an idea that popped in my head as I was writing.

    If you are using a grammar curriculum, which includes it, then I’d say once a week, preferably on a day when you’re not using the curriculum.

    If you’re not using a grammar curriculum, and they are 10+ years old, then it depends on how many times you do dictation. It’s the frequency that gets it to come more easily in time. IMO, it’s better to start with having them verbally identify the parts of a sentence, direct and indirect objects, and parts of speech before attempting to diagram.  That could take a while, but is a great way to introduce the basic parts-of-speech. Then when they have those down, start with diagramming subject/predicate until they get it more right than wrong before adding in more.

    This is where you’ll have to do a lot of work; you’ll need to teach the correct diagram structure by learning them for yourself if you don’t know; knowing the different types of everything and where it goes on the structure and why.

    Writer’s Inc. has definitions for seemingly everything as it relates to parts of speech (I refer to it often when checking my children’s grammar materials and other writing stuff-very handy). A short section on diagramming, but even it doesn’t go far enough to be a substitute in that department.

    There’s some online diagramming sites where you can type in a sentence and it will diagram for you. But you still have to be able to teach what-is-what.

    A writing “curriculum” (not really-it’s more like a Roar on the Other Side type book, just for writing) which hasn’t been mentioned is The Lively Art of Writing: Words, Sentences, Style and Technique — an Essential Guide to One of Today’s Most Necessary Skills. Sonlight uses it.

    Someone at the WTM board created a Study Guide and TG to go with it. It you want it, just email me: rachel_white@windstream.net

    I don’t know if it’s up on the newer MLA styles and Lit. Analysis Essays, but you can get those taught with a writer’s handbook and Windows to the World. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to learn Windows to the World for themselves or their kids, the Inspired Scholar teaches it, starting in Jan. thru  May. It’s self-paced.

    When I really think about it, unless you really know your stuff inside-and-out on grammar, there’s only so far you can go with using dictation/copywork. I am very happy to have something that teaches to my children directly, incremental, yet repetitive; is easy for me to check and if I have questions, I read in their manual and/or in my Writer’s Inc. When they’re finished w/GwG, I’ll move them into Our Mother Tongue.

    Also, there are lectures from The Great Courses which may prove helpful to some from grammar, to sentences to essays and creative fiction and nonfiction writing; especially us adults who are needing to “refresh” our memories. But some high-schoolers may benefit, too.

    I just signed up for their Great Courses Plus, so it’s streaming on our Roku and computers.

    Oh, a new site I found for my own (free) practice: English Grammar 101 

    Don’t know if I was very helpful or not….




    Thanks Rachel.  We used Writing Tales a few years ago and he learned parts of speech with it.  I was holding off until high school on any formal diagramming.  But I like the idea of adding it to our dictation exercise with SW.  I have a unit on diagramming from CLE I can use.  I still have my Little Brown Handbook I used in college that I refer to when I am not sure of something, though I don’t know how much diagramming is in it.  So if I need more help, I may use Writer’s Inc or OMT.

    Rachel White

    How may times a week do you do dictation and do you work on different sentences or is it the same sentence all week? I ask for a reason.


    My son is in grade 7, 12 yo.  We are in SW 2, #30.  We get through two passages each week.  Day 1, he reads out loud to me, and we discuss grammar and mechanics in the passage.  I send him to the dictionary to look up definitions for words we don’t know.  We may also discuss the meaning of the passage as a whole.   He picks 3 or 4 words to practice spelling, three times each.  He copies the full passage in his notebook.  The next day, he studies the passage and hands the book to me when he is ready for dictation.  Afterwards, he grades it and I check if over to see how he did and if he missed any corrections.

    Also, two days per week are assigned written narrations which must be at least one full page in length.  I correct only one thing at a time and not every time.  I am looking more for content here.  I am hoping to build his confidence as a writer and help him find his writer’s voice.  The other three days are assigned oral narrations.  I also assigned a journal entry once a week because he is not the type to keep one on his own.  Twice a week, he copies Scripture in cursive.  He prefers manuscript for all other writing.  I taught manuscript first, but I am starting to think teaching cursive first may have been better.

    I have read much of Bravewriter’ s The Writing Jungle and will use some projects and editing from this in the future.  I am considering Winston Grammar in high school, rather than Analytical Grammar for this child.  I understand that diagramming helps them learn to write good sentences, but that is also one of the many benefits of copywork and dictation, right?  I am not interested in adding in another workbook or curriculum at this point.  I appreciate the different perspective others share.  If we can informally add in basic diagramming to day 1 of Spelling Wisdom, twice a week, then I will consider teaching it sometime before a separate high school course.  Agreeing with Melanie, “different methods for different children”, and in different seasons.  🙂

    Rachel White

    Sounds like you have it handled and have a nice routine going. WG is a curriculum I meant to mention above in my list. It’s a very good option, too. You don’t need my advice. I agree:

    ” … ‘different methods for different children’, and in different seasons.”

    I would add: in different life circumstances.


    Thanks Rachel.  I am still thinking it over.  We tried pulling out the nouns in our SW2 passage today and it was more challenging than I thought it would be.  It was a passage on George Muller.  We discussed how sometimes a verb can be a noun depending on how it is used in the context of the sentence.  It may be better to do this type of grammar acitivity as they fit with the SW passage instead of the other way around.

    The Writer’s Jungle suggested reading the chapter on grammar in Ruth Beechick’s You Can Teach Your Child Successfully.  After reading it yesterday, I feel more confident in our plans.

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